Walk This Way” is a song by the American hard rock band Aerosmith. Written by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, the song was originally released as the second single from the album Toys in the Attic (1975). It peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1977, part of a string of successful hit singles for the band in the 1970s. In addition to being one of the songs that helped break Aerosmith into the mainstream in the 1970s, it also helped revitalize their career in the 1980s when it was covered by hip hop group Run-D.M.C. on their 1986 album Raising Hell. This cover was a touchstone for the new musical subgenre of rap rock, or the melding of rock and hip hop. It became an international hit and won both groups a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap Single in 1987 Soul Train Music Awards.
In 1986, the hip hop group Run-DMC covered “Walk This Way”, with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on vocals and guitars, respectively. While working on Raising Hell, Rick Rubin pulled out Toys in the Attic. At shows, Run-DMC had freestyled over the first few seconds of the song on a loop, not knowing what the full song sounded like, or even hearing the lyrics. While Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels had no idea who Aerosmith were at that time, Rubin suggested remaking the song. Neither Simmons nor McDaniels liked the idea, though Jam Master Jay was open to it. They didn’t want the record to be released as a single even after recording with Tyler and Perry, and were shocked when it was played on both urban and rock radio stations. “I never even thought ‘Walk This Way’ would be a single,” Rubin recalled. “Not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think in those terms.” DMC called it “a beautiful thing” in a trailer for Guitar Hero (This later appeared in a scene from the 2011 film The Smurfs). This version of “Walk This Way” charted higher on the Billboard Hot 100 than the original, peaking at number 4. It was also one of the first big hip hop singles in the UK, peaking at peak number 8.
The song marked a major comeback for Aerosmith, as they had been largely out of mainstream pop culture for several years while Tyler battled addiction and Perry and Brad Whitford were out of the band. Their 1985 comeback album, Done with Mirrors, had also not met commercial expectations. Aerosmith followed “Walk This Way” with multi-platinum albums and Top 40 hits, starting with Permanent Vacation and its hit “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” in 1987.
In 2008, “Walk This Way” was ranked number 4 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop“. This version of the song is currently ranked as the 148th greatest song of all time, as well as the second best song of 1986, by Acclaimed Music.
The chorus of Run-DMC’s cover contains a pitch alternation that Aerosmith adopted in most future live performances. In collaborations, the other singer often says “talk this way” every alternate line of the chorus. This rap-style delivery may explain why the song worked so well as a hip hop song when it was covered eleven years later.
The 1986 video for “Walk This Way” symbolically places a rock band and Run-DMC in a musical duel in neighbouring studios before Steven Tyler literally breaks through the wall that separates them. The video segues to the bands’ joint performance on stage. The highly popular result was the first hip hop hybrid video played in heavy rotation on MTV and is regarded as a classic.
The video was directed by Jon Small and filmed at the Park Theater in Union City, New Jersey. The theater has remained largely unchanged since the video was filmed. Visitors may notice two holes in the ceiling toward the front of the stage where a light fixture was meant to be installed for the shoot. Small had an office at 1775 Broadway, the same building where Run-DMC’s label Profile Records were based: Profile’s co-owner Steve Plotnicki approached Small about directing the video, as he had directed another video by a black act that had broken through into rotation onto the then predominantly white rock-oriented MTV, Whitney Houston‘s “The Greatest Love of All“. Small believed that for the video to break into heavy play on MTV, it had to feature Tyler and Perry: he developed the concept of the bands playing on either side of a wall that was subsequently breached. The video’s budget was a modest $67,000.
Aside from Tyler and Perry, none of the other rock musicians in the video are the Aerosmith members; instead, they were played by Roger Lane, J. D. Malo, and Matt Stelutto—respectively rhythm guitarist, bassist, and drummer of the largely unknown hair metal outfit Smashed Gladys. According to VH1‘s Pop Up Video, Run-DMC could not afford to use the entire Aerosmith band, just Tyler and Perry. As only Tyler and Perry had traveled to record the cover, they were the only Aerosmith members to appear.
According to journalist Geoff Edgers, Tyler and Perry were initially ambivalent about appearing in the video: when Small phoned Tyler to discuss the video concept, Tyler told him: “Just don’t make fools of us… I don’t want people laughing at us”. Plotnicki described the atmosphere on set as “beyond chilly”, whilst Smashed Gladys lead guitarist Bart Lewis was struck by the fact that interaction between the members of Aerosmith and Run-DMC was minimal. However, according to Edgers, the frosty relations did thaw as the shoot went on.
The guitar that Perry is playing is a Guild X-100 Bladerunner. The Guild X100 Bladerunner was originally developed and patented by David Newell and Andrew Desrosiers of David Andrew Guitars. The patent was licensed to Guild Guitars for 17 years and reverted to public domain in 2006. During initial manufacture, Newell and Desrosiers worked directly with Guild craftsman to develop the final product. The guitar used in this video was one of these early issues.